Two students form a team. One school can enter multiple teams at a competition, called a tournament. Coaches partner students who can work well together and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The debaters and coaches have the debate topic for weeks or months in advance and research and prepare arguments for both sides, the affirmative and the negative, of their topic. Both partners work on both sides together, under their coach’s supervision and with his/her feedback.
At a tournament, teams are assigned to a side and randomly assigned an opponent from a different school. Multiple schools compete at a tournament. One debate is called a round and lasts less than two hours. All debaters speak twice. Each debater’s initial speech, the Constructive, is highly structured and built upon his research. The second speech, the Rebuttal, is more responsive, requiring adaptation to his opponent’s’ arguments. Every debater also participates in two cross-examinations by and of their opponents. Cross-examination involves a lot of quick thinking, as well as civility and toughness. A judge, often a former debater herself, listens to the arguments quietly and keeps time. At the end, the judge critiques the arguments presented and writes down a decision, naming a winner and assigning points.
Every team switches sides for the next round and is assigned a new opponent and judge. Teams will have several rounds, alternating sides, during a tournament. The best debaters–who have winning records and the highest points–are recognized at the awards ceremony that ends a tournament. Debaters and coaches afterward get the written feedback from judges to read and analyze. Coaches debrief the debaters on how to improve their arguments and presentation skills for the next tournament.